Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Chinese New Year Pig
Photo by Ben Nunez.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Despite having spent the past 6 years living in a neighborhood with a large Asian population, I know very little about Chinese New Year. A close friend of mine, Chao, is Chinese, and if he weren't currently in Hong Kong, I would grill him for information for this post.

According to Wikipedia, "Chinese New Year, known in Chinese as the 'Spring Festival' or the 'Lunar New Year,' is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. The festival proper begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival." The Lunar New Year dates from 2600 BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac.

I know that many Asian cultures celebrate some version of Chinese New Year. My neighborhood is primarily Vietnamese and Thai, but they have they're own smaller parade (the big parade is in Chinatown).

I had Dim Sum in Chinatown with Chao about a week ago (Shui Wah is Chao's pick for Dim Sum), and we paid a brief visit to a local grocery store before we left the neighborhood. It was filled with red decorations and gold statues that are the traditional lucky symbols of the celebration.

Food, of course, is integral to Chinese New Year, and specific dishes are eaten to bring luck, wealth and happiness. The traditions seem to vary, but Wikipedia lists the following:

  • Fish: Usually eaten on the eve of Chinese New Year. The pronunciation of fish makes it a homophone for "more than enough," or "extra."
  • Nian gao: Popular in eastern China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai) because its pronunciation is a homophone for "a more prosperous year."
  • Dumplings (Jiaozi): Eaten traditionally in northern China because the preparation is similar to packaging luck inside the dumpling, which is later eaten.
  • Candy: To ensure the consumer a "sweet" year.
  • Kwatji/Sunflower, Pumpkin or Melon Seeds: To some, these ensure happiness in the New Year
  • Turnip/Taro cakes: I don't know what these symbolize, but they're my favorite!